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How to apply for a grant for your community group

If you think your group or community organisation is too small, or too specialised, to be awarded a grant – or that you haven’t a chance of successfully applying for one – here’s the good news: more than $40 billion in grants is given away each year in Australia, and the range of grants is huge, so there’s bound to be some that fit your group’s aims.

There are grants for everything from things you might expect, such as projects that help care for dogs and cats and local sports events, to some you might not, such as puppetry and community renewable energy projects.

And we know that Nabo members give their time to help others in all sorts of ways, from coaching sports group to working with rural fire brigades. Others volunteer at organisations that provide support to people who are homeless, people dealing with cancer and other illnesses, as well as members of the community who need a hand or animals in distress.

So how do you go about securing help for your group or project? We’ve gathered together these top tips to help you get started, and maximise your chance of success.

Have a very clear idea of what your purpose is

“A great tip for community groups thinking of applying is to work on their ‘elevator pitch’ – a clear and concise description of what they do, who they assist and what they hope to use the community grant for – it helps with the selection process,” says Susan Bannigan, Westpac Foundation CEO.

Since 2012, the  Community Grants program run by Westpac Foundation, a Nabo partner, has provided more than $5.5 million in grants to organisations across Australia. Last year, 200 grants were awarded, and the Foundation is pleased to be able to award 200 again this year.

“Westpac Foundation’s Community Grants are $10,000 each, aimed at supporting local, grassroots community organisations working towards a fairer, more inclusive Australia. The grants aim to help Australians in need with educational opportunities, employment pathways and improved quality of life,” Bannigan explains.

Apply now - applications for this year’s Westpac Foundation Community Grants close 5pm Friday 8 June.

Check the eligibility carefully

It doesn’t matter how impressive your project is, or how much good it might do – if it doesn’t meet a grant-maker’s criteria, you’re wasting your time, and who wants to do that when you’re working hard to make your community a better place?

More than half of those surveyed for the Grants in Australia 2017 report from Our Community, a social enterprise that works to help people and organisations build stronger communities, said they had started an application but not submitted it – and for 43%, discovering they weren’t a fit for the grant they’d been aiming for was the reason they dropped out.

The survey of not-for-profit groups from across Australia was commissioned by Our Community, to help guide its work and that of its enterprises, including the Australian Institute of Grants Management (which aids and educates grant-makers) and the Funding Centre (a hub of information on grant seeking and fundraising – some of it free, and some, like their searchable database of grants, available to members).

The Funding Centre’s “Writing a Grant” guide says that for some grant-makers, up to 30% of applications do not meet the eligibility criteria: “The most important part of any application is READING THE GUIDELINES, following them to the letter, and ensuring that you do actually meet the criteria for the grant.”

Cast your net widely

While the majority of grant funding in Australia is distributed by governments, other groups are a source of change-making help too - charities, for example, provide more than $4 billion annually in grants and donations. Trusts, corporations and even small organisations also contribute, and that means there’s a huge range of grant types available.

“A lot of organisations think of themselves as ‘this type’ of organisation or ‘that type’ of organisation – a disability organisation, say, or a sports organisation, or an educational organisation. But that's not all that helpful when it comes to searching for grants because grant-makers don't necessarily care what type of organisation you are; what they're interested in is the people you work with and the outcomes you work towards – they're looking for a match in those two areas,” explains Kathy Richardson, the Executive Director of Our Community.

“So a kindergarten might see itself as being in the business of ‘education’ but if they need funds to put up a shade sail, that's going to result in health benefits for the kids so that can easily be seen as a health-focused project. That means they can apply for grants not just from education-focussed funders but from health-focussed funders as well. If the shade sail is going to be put in the area where parents meet and chat during pick-ups, making it more comfortable for them to hang around and get to know each other, then the project is creating community development benefits, which opens the organisation up to a whole other bunch of funders.

“You have to think laterally about what you do and the outcomes you're working towards – that'll make it easier for you to find more funding matches.”

Think beyond dollars

Some grants provide mentorship, guidance and other support, not just money. This extra support might help you make the most of your grant, or it could help in other ways – upskilling your members, or helping you put better systems in place.

Westpac Foundation’s Community Grants, for instance, include valuable non-financial support.

“Each Community Grant recipient is matched with a Westpac Group ambassador. We’ve had ambassadors help create websites, apps and marketing and communication plans for fundraising events. For many of these organisations, resources and time are often limited, so having the support and advice of their ambassadors can make a huge difference,” Susan Bannigan explains.

Address how your group would use this type of support to help make your application stronger.  

Allow plenty of time, and double check your application

When we asked Kathy Richardson, Executive Director at Our Community, for her top tip for people new to the grant application process, she generously gave us five. At the start of the process, she says, as well as making sure you read the guidelines (the first tip on her list), allow yourself plenty of time. 

“As soon as you become aware of a grant opportunity note the timeframes and make a list of all of the things you will need to do and collect before you'll get to the point where you can click ‘submit’ – then give yourself twice as much time as you think you will need. Grant applications are a lot of work and you have to give yourself the best possible shot at being successful.”

Tip number three was to set up a grants template. “The information you collect the first time you apply for a grant you're going to reuse every time you apply for another one so store it all in the one spot and label it properly so it's easy to find. Keep a copy of your applications as well so you can copy and paste, where possible.”

Number four: “Get someone who knows nothing about your organisation or your project to read over your application form before you send it in. They'll help you get rid of jargon and clarify concepts that may seem obvious to you but may not be clear to the person reading your application.”

And finally, “Let someone else do the hard work for you! There are tens of billions of dollars in grants given out across Australia each year and it's not going to be possible for you to keep on top of it all without some help.” The Funding Centre, which is part of One Community, built it’s own database for just this purpose. “Our grants database lists all of these grants and allows you to sort them according to your profile, and get alerts when a new opportunity presents itself. It's the best $85 you'll ever spend.”

Build a relationship

Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone if you’ve got a question about the application process. If an organisation provides a number for queries about grants, that means they’re happy to hear from you, and it can help start a good relationship and improve your chances of getting a grant. Likewise, if you are awarded a grant, stay in touch. Grantmakers are happy to hear how their funds have helped.

Not sure where to start?

Here are some good websites that can help you find grants and write your applications:

  • The Commonwealth Government’s Community Grants Hub, including guidance on how to prepare a government grant application and effectively address selection criteria and a list of current grant opportunities.
  • The Funding Centre’s Grants Help Centre links to the Centre’s Help Sheets on topics such as grant-seeking basics, how to apply a “gender lens” to your work, and assigning a value to your volunteer labour (something you might need to include in a grant application). Membership includes access to other material, and the searchable grants database, which includes more than 3300 listings.
  • Social Ventures Australia’s Information for Ventures page has links to a wide range of training and support sources, funding and grant opportunities, crowdfunding platforms and more.
  • Philanthropy Australia’s How to seek funding page  includes tips and links. There’s also a fee-based membership which gives access to a list of grant-making organisations (more useful for charitable organisations, since most trusts and philanthropic foundations can only fund organisations with Deductible Gift Recipient status) and other resources.

“I feel a real sense of community and purpose when contributing in my local area,” one Nabo volunteer said in a recent survey. If, like them, you’re making a difference in your community, a grant could be just what your group needs. Good luck!

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